As he watched Marian Hossa's last second attempt to tie the game roll through the crease, Dan Cleary stood at the top of the crease with a stunned look.
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The puck rolled across the crease -- it appeared to be a split second late anyway -- and Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood raised his hands to the hockey gods. The Detroit Red Wings had won their fourth Stanley Cup in just 12 years.
Cleary did not appear to be so sure. He looked on with a stunned face, looking at Osgood as if to ask "is it over now?"
It's over now, and in the process, Cleary becomes the first Newfoundlander to have his name on Lord Stanley's mug. Yet that was not the only significant historical event that happened Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
When captain Nicklas Lidstrom accepted the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman, it marked the first time a European born and trained captain had done so.
For many years, the perception of Europeans was they are not as tough or dedicated as North Americans. The stereotype was they were more concerned with the World Championships or Olympics than the Stanley Cup.
If that was the case, this a new generation of Europeans. The Wings are a European-laden team, featuring seven Swedes alone. And nobody would accuse these guys of being soft or not caring enough.
Tomas Holmstrom is the ultimate warrior, a clone of Ryan Smyth in many ways. He takes a beating like nobody else in the league while playing in front of the net, rarely gets a break on the calls, yet does it all with a smile on his face.
Henrik Zetterberg is the best two-way forward in the game. He may just be the league's best defensive player, yet he ranks among the best offensive players in the game.
Lidstrom, the silent assassin, is widely recognized as the second-best defenseman ever to play the game, trailing only some guy named Bobby Orr. And nobody can question his leadership qualities.
But it is not just about the Swedes. Pavel Datsyuk is a skilled player on his own, but put him with Zetterberg and the duo becomes unstoppable at both ends of the ice. Kris Draper has provided grit, determination, and solid defensive play for more than a decade.
You can't forget about the man between the pipes, Chris Osgood. Even when he backstopped the Wings to the 1998 Stanley Cup, many felt he was the weak link on a powerhouse team. Nobody is saying that this time. He started the playoffs as the backup to Dominik Hasek, yet by the end, he was a viable Conn Smythe candidate.
The coach, Mike Babcock, pushed all the right buttons. Despite being one year removed from taking an underdog Anaheim squad to the 2003 Stanley Cup, he was fired within days after Brian Burke became the general manager in Anaheim. There was rampant speculation as to the reasoning for the move, but at the core, Burke seemed to think Babcock did not play entertaining hockey.
Three years later, both teams have Stanley Cup championships to their name. Ironically, Burke's Ducks did it with more of a slow it down, defensive mindset. Detroit certainly had a defensive mindset as well, but much of it was based on great individual defensive performances rather than a stifling system.
Babcock's dealings with the media have always been classy, honest, and entertaining. And when he isn't speaking with the reporters, he is often seen talking with legendary coach Scotty Bowman, now a consultant for Detroit.
Babcock has clearly learned from Bowman, as he is becoming the game's new mastermind. It is a different time, and Babcock has a different personality than Bowman. Yet the results remain the same.
General Manager Ken Holland has been among the league's best for years. When money was no object, he lured the game's best stars to Detroit. In the salary cap era, he has seamlessly transitioned to a new economic structure. Regardless of the rules, Holland has been the best at his craft.
And don't forget about super scout Hakan Anderson. The Swedish-based scout is a big reason the Wings found Holmstrom at the 257th overall pick, Zetterberg at 210th, and Kronwall at the 29th pick in three separate years.
Enjoy this, Hockeytown. And enjoy this, they are. Thousands of Wings fans took to the streets peacefully Wednesday night in areas such as downtown Detroit, Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Mount Clemens. The parties went late into the night as metro Detroit proved hockey is indeed at the core of the region’s culture.
The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press dedicated the entire front page to the Wings, while much of the inside content was also hockey-related.
This is how it should be. Great hockey, great fan support, and great television ratings. The 4.0 rating/7 share means an average of nearly 7 million U.S.-based viewers were tuned into the game at any one point. For all the media's talk of the NBA's popularity, only one NBA playoff game has had a higher rating so far this year -- and the difference was less than 10%, well within the margin of error when it comes to television ratings.
The future looks bright for the NHL, as well as the Red Wings.
Enjoy it, Hockeytown.
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